Marek Vanacker played hurt, but still emerged as an exciting 2024 NHL Draft prospect

Photo credit:courtesy OHL Images
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
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During the 2023-24 season, Brantford Bulldogs winger Marek Vanacker enjoyed a breakout campaign.
In his draft eligible season, Vanacker did what a lot of players hope to do: put his best foot forward performance-wise, quadrupling his per-game offensive production and emerging as a really effective player in the Ontario Hockey League.
And he did it despite playing injured for the majority of the season.

Scouting report

A product of Delhi, Ontario – a town in southern Ontario – Vanacker is an April 2006 birthday, so he’s one of the younger first-time draft eligible players in this year’s class. He’s a left shot winger listed at 6’0″ and 165 pounds.
Vanacker came up through local minor hockey, primarily in the Brantford area (close to his hometown) and was a first-round pick by the Hamilton Bulldogs in the 2022 OHL Priority Selection. He spent the 2022-23 with Hamilton, and moved to Brantford when the team relocated down the highway prior to the 2023-24 season.
Dobber Prospects’ Jordan Harris provided a rundown of Vanacker’s game back in April:
Vanacker is another player who took major strides over the course of the season. Vanacker is a good skater and projects as an above average skater at the NHL level. He has a good shot, good hands, and plays a decent two-way game as well. I’m not sure there’s enough high-end hockey sense or playmaking for him to find his way into a top 6 or PP1 at the NHL level, but his ability to score and play off the puck suggest he could be a solid 3rd line option on the wing.
At the NHL’s Draft Combine in June, Vanacker revealed he played injured for much of the season, dealing with a shoulder injury. Here’s how The Hockey News’ Jared Brown explained it:
So what happened? The Brantford Bulldogs winger revealed that he suffered a shoulder injury back in November in a game against London, but didn’t think it was a break and much of it. And he didn’t miss a single game this season, showcasing that work ethic he’s developed from assisting his uncle on his watermelon farm.
After Brantford was eliminated in the first round of the OHL playoffs, Vanacker went to play at the IIHF U18 Men’s World Championship for Canada where he won gold. Once his season finally concluded, it was identified that he had torn his labrum and would need surgery to repair it.
Daily Faceoff’s Steven Ellis ranked Vanacker at 44th overall after the Under-18 World Championships and had this breakdown of his game:
There’s a lot to like about Vanacker’s game. He’s not great defensively, for sure, but he moves so well with the puck and creates quality scoring chances on a consistent basis. He was just a depth forward a year ago, but now he’s the one doing so much of the heavy lifting for Brantford. While I’m projecting him as a second-rounder, some teams like him as a top-32 pick. If there’s one thing he’s good at, it’s working until he’s got nothing left in the tank.
On a Brantford team pretty shallow on high-end talent, Vanacker was their top scorer and their go-to guy offensively. He’s not a perfect prospect, but he’s shown a lot and did so while injured. There could be untapped upside there.

The numbers

Vanacker generated 36 goals and 46 assists for 82 points over 68 games for Brantford. He added a goal over six games for Canada at the Under-18 World Championships.
Among OHLers, Vanacker was tied for 16th in points and goals, and tied for 25th in assists. He wasn’t quite in the OHL’s offensive elite, but he produced really strong numbers nonetheless.

Availability and fit

A team selecting Vanacker in the first round is betting on him having untapped potential that his injury clouded. A team selecting him in the second round would be making a more conservative bet, looking at his 2023-24 body of work and concluding that it’s an accurate snapshot of his upside. Either way, Vanacker’s a quality prospect, though there’s a debate about what his upside is. The Flames can always use more talented wingers, so Vanacker would fit in with their prospect pool – depending on when he was taken.
There’s a lot of variation in where Vanacker lands on draft rankings. He’s appeared in the late first round on a couple – Sam Cosentino’s list at Sportsnet and McKeen’s list – but otherwise appears throughout the early-to-mid second round. (Daily Faceoff’s Steven Ellis had him 44th, which is pretty representative of rankers that see him as a second-rounder.) If he slips into the mid-to-late second round, he could offer tremendous value for whatever team takes him.

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